This is where it all began, inside the Albertine walls of the University campus at Pollenzo, a tiny village hamlet nestling between the vineyard-covered, truffle-rich lands of Piedmont in Italy. The place where the Slow Food movement first saw the light thirty years ago. The driving force behind the University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded in 2004 and the first of its kind in the world, in which all dimensions of the food universe are integrated and whose vision could be summed up in the portrait of a young farmer with an iPad.
Pollenzo is revered and imitated worldwide: almost half of its students come from abroad, and German or Japanese delegations are regularly welcomed to the University to learn and take their new-found knowledge back home. “The valorisation of everything to do with food is fruit of deindustrialization: in Italy – and in Europe – it has become necessary to extract new resources from our respective territories. And what better heritage than food to ensure our survival? – explains Simone Cinotto, a food historian and lecturer at Pollenzo, specialized in American history – So, universities have responded to this new interest”.
Strange as it may seem, the most extensive and ramified offering is actually available in the States: the first courses dedicated to food and its socio-cultural implications started to appear two or three decades ago. Then came the transition: the first degree courses were inaugurated (minor and major).
Starting from the long-established Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health of New York University, where Marion Nestle heartily introduced the topic of food policies. Or, the Pollenzo-inspired Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy offered by Boston University. “Food Studies”, or Gastronomic Science, is the interdisciplinary field in which the various food-oriented academic subjects come together, exchange notes and interact.
“What sets us apart from 'Food Science' (Agraria in Italian)– explains Cinotto – is that the latter takes no account of socio-cultural aspects. Our challenge is all about integrating the various spheres of activity”. In the course of the last two years, the university courses focused on food have really taken off, with some extremely interesting new proposals. The great state university of Indiana launched a PhD in food anthropology two years ago, directed by Richard Wilk, which involves as many as 37 departments on the campus. The Pacific University of San Francisco offers the first ever Master of Arts in Food Studies on the West Coast, directed by historian Ken Albala.
In New York the New School for Social Research has implemented a bachelor's degree course for student workers. Besides the States: the University of Toronto Scarborough, where the famous food historian Jeffrey Pilcher teaches, has launched the culinary project, to document, safeguard and study culinary differences around the world. No organized academic offering exists as yet in Europe, but all concerned are engaged in its implementation. Worthy of note is the European Institute of Food History and Culture at Tour in France and the degree course in Culinary and Gastronomic Sciences at Barcelona University.
What sort of professional opening and career can you aspire to after following a course of study like this? “The department of Gastronomic Sciences produces ‘cultural mediators’ – explains Cinotto, who has penned various books comprising The Italian American table - Food, Family, and Community in New York City and Soft Soil, Black Grapes – The birth of Italian winemaking in California - food is no longer about production alone, it is also a question of communication. To be deployed in the fourth sector, in business or in writing”.